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10-priests

We are not alone when we walk with God

Clergy can, like the Apostles, argue and compete with each other—but there’s a unique value in the bond that joins priests — By Fr Jamie McMorrin

Every year in my archdiocese we celebrate the feast of St Andrew with a gathering of clergy with the archbishop, praying together before the Blessed Sacrament and then eating a meal together.

We were somewhat reduced in numbers this year—as any priest will be only too willing to tell you, ‘it’s a busy time of year!’—but, for those of us who could make it, it was a wonderful evening of friendship, fellowship and fraternity.

We were a rather diverse assembly. Around the table, we ranged from inexperienced youngsters like myself, to retired priests with a lifetime of ministry behind them. We came from many different parts of the diocese and, indeed, from all across the world. There was, doubtless, a whole spectrum of opinions on theology, on Church life and on ministry.

The same was true, of course, of the first disciples. Among the 12 chosen by the Lord were tax-collectors and fishermen, zealous nationalists and Roman collaborators, rash believers and hesitant doubters.

They argued with each other, got jealous of each other, and competed with each other—as the old joke goes, the only time they all agreed with each other was in the Garden of Gethsemane when they all fled.

 

Friendship

But the Lord chose them to be together. He called them not only as individuals called to a personal relationship of love with him, but as a group, called to friendship with one another. They walked together, ate together, prayed together, laughed and cried together. He sent them out on their missionary journeys, not as ‘lone rangers’, but two-by-two, together.

When things go wrong in the Gospels, it’s usually because one of them has found himself alone and isolated: Judas and his betrayal, Peter and his denial, Thomas and his doubting. As the Creator himself observed in the book of Genesis, and as Fr Michael reminded us on these pages a few weeks ago, ‘it’s not good for man to be alone.’

So far, I’m fortunate to have always lived with other priests. I know that it won’t always be like this. But I also know that regardless of whether I live in a house full of priests or if I’m the only one for hundreds of miles, the Lord does not call me to be a priest alone. He wants me to be connected not only with my family and my friends (more about them in a future article!), but also with my brothers in the priesthood.

 

‘only a phone call away’

When the time comes for me to move out on my own, although I’ll miss not having another priest in the house to ask for advice and to share experiences, I know that these conversations are only a phone call away.

Whether it’s sharing a sublime moment of God’s grace at work, or getting another perspective on some pastoral dilemma, or simply searching for an idea about what on earth to preach about this weekend, we need our brothers to encourage us, to advise us and, sometimes, to tell us when we’re being an idiot and need to get a grip.

Of course, there is a danger that good and healthy priestly fraternity can devolve into a closed clericalist clique, cut off from reality. We’ve all read about the consequences of that. Of course there must be a fruitful collaboration between priests and laity, not only in the work of ministry but in mutually supportive friendships.

I’ve experienced such friendships and I thank God for them. But, for me, there’s something uniquely valuable about the bond of communion which joins priests together, not only as friends, but as brothers.

This is not my idea, but the vision of the Second Vatican Council, which teaches that each priest belongs to ‘an intimate sacramental brotherhood… united with his fellow priests in a bond of charity, prayer and total cooperation.’

This begins on the day of his ordination, when the presbyterate of a diocese unite with the bishop in laying hands on the new priest and welcoming him into their number with the kiss of peace.

 

A precious treasure

In every day priestly life, these liturgical actions give way to more informal—but, in a way, no less meaningful—expressions of priestly fraternity: a quick sandwich with someone passing through the area, a phone call at just the right moment to talk about nothing in particular, an encouraging word in the coffee break of an otherwise rather tedious meeting.

As our numbers diminish, and the work load increases, priestly fraternity becomes a more and more precious treasure. Meals like last Fridays remind me that I’m not alone. That my joys and my struggles are not mine alone, but are shared by my brother priests. That, like the first disciples, we journey together in the service of the same Lord and Master, who is our mutual friend, the true source of our unity and who calls us—together—to follow him.

 

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